Friday, August 13, 2010

Defensive Weapons

The outer layer of cells on a plant's surface - the epidermis - is the first line of defence against herbivores, pests and diseases so it's not surprising that many plants are covered with an array of defensive weapons. Sometimes these are cells that secrete repellent biochemicals, which give many plants a characteristic aroma when you brush their leaves. Other species have mechanical barriers, in the form of dense coverings of hairs (trichomes) to deter small insects like aphids. Stinging nettles are covered in a forest of complex stinging hair cells, each mounted on a pediment of cells. You can see some further, more detailed images of the structure of the stinging hairs here, but the image above is an aphid's-eye view of a nettle leaf underside - although they wouldn't see it in these lurid colours, which I generated using polarised light.

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